The three of them walked into the city of Windhelm during a fierce winter snowstorm, their cloaks pulled close to their bodies. Meliandra was thankful that the inn was directly in front of them as they headed inside, grateful at the thought of a warm fire, some mulled wine and local gossip. The sound of a lyre and the ballad of Ragnar the Red greeted their ears as the door opened. A middle-aged blonde looked up from her sweeping as they walked in, a sour look seemingly etched on her face. “Come on in, just stoked the fire. Got some fresh baked bread, how about a bowl of stew with some bread and fresh churned butter?”
Meliandra looked to Vorstag and Lydia; she could swear she heard the housecarl’s stomach rumble at the mention of food. She looked back to the innkeeper and nodded, “There some seating around the fire?”
The blonde nodded, “Aye, upstairs. Get yourselves warm. Shall I bring you something?”
Lydia piped up, “Some of that stew and bread and a jug of mead. Don’t forget that butter either.”
Vorstag chimed in and added to the order, then headed up the stairs while Meliandra and Lydia stood at the foot of the stairs. The Breton looked at her housecarl and asked her why she hesitated to join Vorstag.
Meliandra interrupted her saying, “My name is not ‘My Thane’. Call me Meliandra. I don’t really want to be reminded of my thanehood.”
Lydia frowned. “I’m sorry, Meliandra. It’s just…, I’m sworn to protect you. I should remain by your side.”
Meliandra looked at her wide-eyed. “You know, you take your job way too seriously. Live it up some, Lydia. Go upstairs and wait for me. I’ll be up there shortly; I’m going to get us a room for the night and leave my stuff in there first, alright?” She watched as the Nord grudgingly agreed and climbed up the stairs. She approached the woman, studying her as she did. Once she secured the room and paid for everything, she went to the rented room and shut the door.”
She began going through her pack and located her satchel that held her burglary tools and enchanted jewelry. She slipped her rings on her fingers, placed her enchanted necklace on and changed into her boots that were enchanted with muffling but she stayed in her traveling clothes. She set her bag in the wardrobe and exited the room, making her way upstairs.
Vorstag sat at a small table by the fire, a tankard of ale in his hand as he spoke with a man clad in steel armor, a sellsword by the appearance of him. Lydia sat not far away, looking uncomfortable among the grouping of Stormcloak soldiers. Meliandra made her way to the empty chair and sat down, noticing her own bowl of stew with a chunk of bread. She hadn’t realized how hungry she actually was until the aroma of the stew assailed her nose making her mouth water. Soon, she found herself using her bread to clean the sides of the bowl she ate from, sopping up every bit of broth she could. She was slightly disappointed when she was finished but the fullness of her stomach was evidence of her satisfaction.
While Lydia and Meliandra spoke idly about random subjects, the Breton paid attention to the talk of the townspeople, listening for any gossip that would be of benefit for her and the Guild. It wasn’t the loud voices that got her attention but the hushed whispers of the old women speaking of the chanting coming out of the old Aretino place. She listened with interest how they spoke of how the husband had been a Stormcloak soldier and was dead three winters now and then how last winter the wife was taken in death, leaving the boy orphaned. Apparently, the boy had been sent to Honorhall Orphanage in Riften after that. Some months later people had started reporting seeing the flickering of lights from within as well as ominous chanting, yet the house was locked up as tight as it was the day the jarl’s men locked it up.
Meliandra arched an eyebrow as she finished her drink. ‘Maybe,’ she thought to herself, ‘I’ll just have to go check out this ghost.”
The door shut softly, the clicking of the latch barely audible. She slipped her hood off her head and onto her shoulders as she walked around, gazing in awe at the assortment of weapons in glass cases and ganging on the walls. Delvin had instructed her to steal enough things of value that they’d know that only the Thieves Guild would be brazen enough to steal it. She had a feeling that stealing something from the jarl’s personal armory would be exactly the thing to make the people of Windhelm remember the Thieves Guild and let them know that they were very much alive and well.
The jarl of Windhelm had an interesting collection of both armor and weaponry. There were mannequins in Ancient Nord Armor with ancient Nord weapons on the racks next to them. She approached one mannequin that stood alone from all the others, eyeing the armor that dressed it, a worn, beat up shield attached to its hand. But it was the rings on its fingers that caught her attention. The gems were flawless, perfect. And the gold and silver were gleaming brightly as if they had just been made.
Smiling, she removed the rings and slipped them into her satchel. She glanced around the room, her eyes quickly scanning the room for anything else of value. Seeing nothing, she slipped the hood back on and made her way out of the armory before drinking the potion of invisibility she had taken out. She thought she heard a footstep just down the hall, but she saw nothing. Not wanting to break the effect of the potion, she decided not to cast a detect life spell and made her way out of the palace.
She didn’t have much trouble finding the Aretino house. She saw no one around and worked the lock with her pick, finding success in just a few tries. The home was dimly lit by a few small candles. She heard a young boy’s voice up the stairs but couldn’t make out the words. As she got closer she could him more clearly.
“Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.” Over and over she heard these words as she climbed the stairs, following the voice to candle-lit room.
It seemed like she had walked in on some kind of ritual; there was a skeleton on the floor, along with a human heart and rotting flesh encircled by candles. She watched as the child rubbed the blade of an old, rusty dagger with petals of Nightshade, his voice filled with exhaustion as he lamented, “How long must I do this? I keep praying. Please, Night Mother, why won’t you answer me?” He dropped the petals and began to chant again as he repeatedly stabbed the effigy on the floor.
She steeped on a board that creaked loudly, startling the boy. The dagger fell to the floor with a clang as he fell backward, a look of shock on his face. He worked his lips but no sound came forth for a moment as he stared at her.
“You okay, kid?” she asked, slightly concerned.
“It worked!” he cried out, jumping to his feet. “I knew you’d come! I just knew it! I did the Black Sacrament, over and over. With the body, and the…things.” He motioned toward the bloody mess on the floor. “And then you came! An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood!”
Meliandra’s mouth opened. “You’ve been trying to get the Dark Brotherhood? Why in Oblivion would a child be in need of an assassin?”
The boy looked down. “My mother died and I’m all alone now. The jarl had me sent to Honorhall Orphanage in Riften. It was terrible there!” He looked back up at her, his eyes lit by the flames of his anger. “the headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her Grelod the Kind. But she’s not kind. She’s terrible. To all of us.” He shrugged and ran his foot from side to side in a small spot. “So, I ran away, and came home. And performed the Black Sacrament.” He smiled as he looked at her. “Now you’re here! And you can kill Grelod the Kind!”
She walked out of the Aretino house and headed back to the inn; she thought about the boy and his situation. She had heard mixed stories of the old woman who ran the orphanage. She couldn’t just take the boy at his word and even if what he had said was true, as the leader of the Thieves Guild, she could not risk getting caught in Riften for committing a murder. Yet the pain in the kid’s eyes spoke to her; she had seen that same look reflected in her own eyes when she was a young child. She remembered how she had felt when so much had been taken from her at such a young age. Part of her wanted to help him.
She turned the corner, the inn a short walk away. Her thoughts went to the warm room she had rented and the bed within. She was tired and her mind was heavy with thoughts of Brynjolf and now weighed down even more as she thought of the Aretino boy. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she wanted to help the boy, her only concern was how would she get away with it? Slightly shaking her head, she decided she’d give it more thought the next day on their return to Riften.
She stopped abruptly. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, the unmistakable feeling of someone watching her tingling up her spine. She listened carefully for any sound as she studied the shadows, relying heavily upon the heightened senses she possessed, a genetic gift from her father. She started reaching for her dagger when a pair of soldiers stepped out of the darkness, both having their swords drawn.
She took a step back, then turned and headed toward the city gate. She could easily take two guards on at once, but she did not want to draw attention to herself. She’d have to find a way to get a message to Vorstag and Lydia inside the inn, but she could not afford to get herself arrested.
Once again, she stopped short as the guards by the city’s entrance drew their swords and stepped in middle of her path. She turned in the direction of the docks, dreading the idea of an escape through the icy waters but saw no other option. Mid-step she realized escape was not feasible as more guards appeared.
“Shor’s balls,” she said exasperatedly. She watched as an older man walked toward her. He wore a Stormcloak officer’s uniform, but one she had only seen in passing on her travels. He held no weapon, though a Warhammer was strapped to his back. The look in his eyes told her that trying to run would not bode well for her. He stopped an arm’s length away from her.
“You got a big set on you, don’t you, girl?”
She arched her eyebrow, a smirk appearing on her face. “You have no idea, old-timer.”
“Why don’t you give me one then?” he responded.
She glanced at the guards then back at him. “Maybe another time, Gramps, when it’s not so…crowded.”
“If you ever get the chance.” He motioned to a couple of the guards. “Get her in irons and take her down to the cells. Make sure she doesn’t have anything on her and double up the guard on her.” He looked at her dead in the eyes as he said, “I don’t know how you managed to get into Ulfric’s personal armory without anyone noticing you, but you sure the fuck won’t be sneaking out of your cell anytime soon, thief.”